DOVER — It's that time of year again, when strawberry farmers open their fields to locals who love to pick ripe berries for jam, pies and strawberry daiquiris.
I've been going to U-picks with my dad ever since I was about as tall as the low-lying bushes. But years later, I still love the hunt for the biggest, juiciest, sweetest berry.
There are several U-picks in Plant City and Dover, even though many farmers stopped this annual tradition decades ago. This year my husband and I decided to do something different: organic U-pick.
Make no mistake, we're not health purists. I'll eat my organic produce right after I finish my Cheetos and Coke, thank you very much. But the thought of eating pesticides, even in small quantities, kind of freaks me out. I can't afford to buy organic produce each time I go to the grocery store, but I consider it when it's cheap.
For you logical types, here's the price breakdown per quart:
• Nonorganic strawberries from Publix: $6.98
• Organic berries picked at Jordan Farms: $1.50
• Nonorganic berries picked at most traditional U-picks: 50 cents
It may be three times more expensive for organic U-picking, but it's still less than a quarter of the prices of store-bought berries. And nutritionists say that conscientious shoppers should buy organic strawberries. Studies show that strawberries retain more pesticides than other fruit.
When Jordan Farms opened for U-pick recently, 2-year-old Lily Mothershed popped strawberry after strawberry into her red-stained mouth.
"If you're going to eat them, you'll have to pick them," her grandma, Debbie Deane, said, smiling.
Deane and her daughter, Jessica Mothershed, have eaten organic fruits and vegetables ever since Deane became worried about genetically modified foods years ago.
They both feel better about Lily's eating organic, and, anyway, going to U-pick is fun, they said. Jordan Farms also has cabbage, lettuce and squash, and owners Ron and Cherri Clark will soon have green beans and cucumbers.
Big Bear Farms in Plant City will most likely open this weekend for organic blueberry U-pick, said owner Ken Dur. His blueberries are $11 a pound — pricey, but much cheaper than store-bought berries, even nonorganic.
If you want cheap organic produce, go soon. Most farms are only open for U-pick for a few weeks. So grab a shallow box and some sunscreen, pull out the blender and clear out the freezer. This is one of those benefits of living in eastern Hillsborough County. Even if you choose the nonorganic route, cheap, fresh-off-the-bush berries are too good to pass up.